“We probably have no more than two to three years to prove that socialism as formulated by Lenin can work,” Aleksandr Yakovlev told a meeting of Communist Party activists in the industrial city of Perm in December 1988. He acknowledged that perestroika (restructuring, as Soviet Party leader Mikhail Gorbachev calls his economic and political reforms) had so far brought about few material improvements in the lives of ordinary Soviet citizens. Yakovlev, who is believed to be Gorbachev’s closest Politburo ally, went on to warn that the failure of perestroika could lead to “triumphant, aggressive and avenging conservatism.” 2